A few years ago Dr. Richard Swenson wrote Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, a book that truly transformed my life. At the time I was a bivocational pastor, serving a church and running a small business our family owned. To say I was burning the candle at both ends would be an understatement.
I picked up this book and found that it was one that was speaking directly into my life. My schedule was full, too full, and there was no margin for anything unexpected. Swenson defines margin as “the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing and suffocating. It is the leeway we once had between ourselves and our limits.” He goes on to say that we need margin in four areas of life if we wish to live healthy lives: emotional energy, physical energy, time, and finances. In all honesty, I didn’t have margin in any of those areas. Fortunately, the remainder of the book showed how we could create that needed margin in those four areas.
Many entrepreneurs, small business owners, pastors, and leaders of various organizations find themselves in the same situation in which I lived. Life used to have built-in opportunities for margin but with cell phones, texting, instant messaging, and various other technologies meant to make our lives easier that is no longer the case.
Last week I flew to California to lead a conference. I do not fly very often, and I found it fascinating to watch the people in the airports. Several were running through the airport trying to catch their flight before the doors were closed. Many of them were on their phones immediately upon leaving the plane. They couldn’t even hang up long enough to drink coffee or eat a quick meal. You could read the stress level on the faces of many of my fellow travelers.
When I do fly I usually arrive at the airport way too early, but I’m not running through the terminal with my name being paged over the PA system telling me to report to the gate before the plane leaves. I may have to wait an hour or so before my flight leaves, but I’m not standing in the security line uncertain if I’ll get through in time to catch the flight. I have a book to read and a laptop if I need to do some work while waiting.
I am often the first to arrive for a meeting. Sometimes the doors aren’t even unlocked when I get there. Again, there’s a book to read or if others have already arrived we can chat while we’re waiting. If I’m speaking somewhere I can get my mic hooked up and greet the people as they come in.
The secret to being able to do this is to own your calendar and build margin into your schedule. You impress no one by having a calendar packed out with appointments every minute of every day. If your cell phone number is on everyone’s speed dial, you are not in control of your life. Arrange your life according to your priorities or others, with their own priorities, will arrange your life for you. That is a model guaranteed to not allow margin to exist in your life.
I read recently that American is the only society where we will sacrifice our health to gain wealth and then spend all our wealth to regain our health. Don’t be that person. Build margin into your life and begin to enjoy life once again.